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Milton Hershey School Students Get Hands-On Training in Fire Prevention

Featuring Rodney Sonderman, MHS Houseparent

As summer’s heat begins to wane and a new school year begins, fire prevention training isn’t a traditional classroom topic, but for students at Milton Hershey School, it’s a lesson they’ll carry with them after they graduate.

MHS housefather, Rodney Sonderman, also serves as the Deputy Fire Chief of the Hershey Volunteer Fire Company. He has been teaching MHS seniors about fire safety since 2007.

Milton Hershey School’s Transitional Living (TL) program prepares its seniors for life after graduation. The students spend their senior year living independently in apartment-style residences on campus—this includes meal preparation for themselves and their roommates.

One of the first trainings MHS seniors receive is a comprehensive fire safety course. This is taught prior to their first meal preparation in their apartment kitchens.

“Preventing a fire from starting is always better than putting out a fire,” Sonderman said. “It is great to hear stories about kids applying fire safety in their homes. Fire safety is a life lesson that will save your life.”

Milton Hershey School houseparent Rodney Sonderman teaches Transitional Living (TL) students fire safety tips

TL student and MHS senior, Dylon Pierce said it was his first time using a fire extinguisher and was appreciative of the hands-on experience. Fellow housemate, Corbyn Bain agreed and said it made him more comfortable with cooking thanks to the training Mr. Sonderman provided.

During the training, students had the opportunity to extinguish a virtual fire. They used state-of-the-art digital technology, called a Bullex Laser-Driven Extinguisher, to simulate the use of a fire extinguisher during a fire emergency scenario. This equipment allows our students to receive hands-on training in a safe environment.

Milton Hershey School houseparent and volunteer fire fighter teachers fire safety class for TL

In addition to his roles at Milton Hershey School, Mr. Sonderman and his colleagues at the Hershey Volunteer Fire Company—which he has been part of for 22 years—teach thousands of school children each year in the local community about fire safety.

“Kids are often more aware than adults about safety and we use that energy to bring the fire safety message to the home,” Sonderman said.

At Milton Hershey School, Mr. Sonderman is also very proud of the continued work with the MHS junior firefighting program, and the many students who have gone into military or public safety careers. Zach Miller ’21 will become the first career firefighter from Mr. Sonderman’s student home.

“MHS is fortunate to have individuals such as Rodney serving our community,” said Rick Gilbert, MHS Senior Director of Campus Safety. “Aside from serving our students, he has a passion and dedication to serve the Hershey community as the Deputy Fire Chief with the Hershey Volunteer Fire Company. With his commitment to educating others in fire safety, he’s able to bring this back to our students and give them life skills that will carry on with them.”

With Fire Prevention Week coming up in October, Mr. Sonderman has the following safety reminders and tips for our school community.

Milton Hershey School houseparent Rodney Sonderman teaches Transitional Living (TL) students fire safety tips

Milton Hershey School is carefully following federal and state guidelines, CDC considerations, and MHS-established health and safety protocols to keep our campus a safe, nurturing, and healthy place. 

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.